Cathedral Bells – Velvet Spirit review

by Chris Hatch

Velvet Spirit is the debut album from self-confessed ‘shoegaze-dreampop’ act, Cathedral Bells. However, that label is somewhat of a misnomer, as the Orlando-based act often fail to hit those catchy, instant indie-pop bullseyes, nor span the widescreen-panorama that you’d expect from the likes of shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus And Mary Chain. Instead, Velvet Spirit manages to muster up a blurry, nostalgic charm all of its own.

Time spent touring the country with former band, Dear Tracks, eventually led Matt Messore back home to Cassadaga, Florida, where he began work on solo-project, Cathedral Bells. It was a shift in direction and aesthetic, but, despite that, there’s still a hint of the luscious, openness of his former band marbled through the record.

Stirring up images of antique drum machines, grainy VHS footage, and neon-lit city streets, Velvet Spirit’s real substance is buried beneath a handful of layers that crack and de-laminate with each listen. Catherdral Bells’ sound takes in elements of synthwave, C86, and New Wave in a tangle of breathy vocals, glittering guitars and keys. But it’s only once the initially fogged-over surface clears that the essence of the record starts to seep through.

In fact, the record mellows and morphs in such a way that album bookends, Ephemeral and Ethereal Shadow could almost have been recorded by two different bands. The former pairs the racing, glistening pop of Funeral Advantage with the flat, industrial production of last year’s Black Marble album, while the latter is a pulsating, swooning, bass-heavy contemplation that calls to mind a mixture of both Hatchie and Errors at their most meditative. Elsewhere, the floaty Cemetery Surf and A Passing Phase make up two of the most arresting tracks on the record – each one barrels along with the urgency of The Drums’ early work, while being given a hint or airiness thanks to a shroud of reverby synths and choral pads.

In the end, Velvet Spirit is a DIY, bedroom-version of the aforementioned ‘shoegaze-dreampop’ – and in a lot of ways, this gives it a uniqueness and appeal all of its own. While the highlights take a little bit of seeking out, there are certainly no flat spots or dull moments throughout the record – as in amongst its gauzy, smoky layers, there is some real beauty to be found. If Messore persists in sharpening up the poppier moments, and affords the dreamier, more progressive tracks some extra weight, then Cathedral Bells could have the potential to be the real deal.

Secret Meeting score: 75


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